The Short Answer
1. “Doing things to get reelected”is a legitimate concern of elected officials. Look for ways in which work to turn the curves on child and family well-being can be “good news”for elected officials.
2. Short term progress vs. long term progress is a false choice. We need both and can produced both. See the Progress Report Prototype.
3. The best way to create room for a long term agenda for children and families is to have short term successes to celebrate. Recognize that these short term successes will most likely be traditional accomplishments, like opening a community center or performance measure improvements like increasing child support collections.
4. The use of business-like models to present the baselines and what it will take to turn them can bring a refreshing honesty and discipline to the process and may make even those with a short time horizon more receptive. A cost of bad results analysis can convey the fiscal urgency of action and the potential fiscal payoffs in both the short and long term.
It is natural for political processes to focus on short term success. The re-election process demands that elected officials have accomplishments to show the voters, and promises of long term success or benefits down the road don’t cut it. How then is it possible to advance work on Results-Based Accountability which may take years to pay off?
(1) The answer lies in not allowing this to be framed as an “either or” question. Short term progress vs. long term progress is a false choice. Most elected officials go into public office because they are concerned about the quality of life in their communities or districts. Quality of life is what results are about. Any condition of well-being that can be stated in plain language is a result. “Communities with healthy children” and “Communities without graffiti” are both results statements.
(2) In some cases it is possible to make progress quickly (in one election cycle) on an indicator. The most politically popular indicator on which to make progress is the “crime rate,” often used as an indicator of safe communities. There are numerous examples of real progress on crime rates in selected cities and neighborhoods. In 1996, Boston got serious about the juvenile homicide rate and cut it to zero for two and one half years. New York City’s work on reducing the crime rate is controversial, but the numbers are unambiguous. Several states, including Missouri, Oregon, and Maryland have made progress on childhood immunization rates in about 18 to 24 months.
Many if not most indicator curves will take years to show change from the baseline. Elected officials will always be pressing for quick ” results.” How do you deal with that? It may not be the answer you expect, but deal with it honestly. Elected officials are tired of false promises from the bureaucracy. An honest assessment of how hard this is and what it will take may actually be a breath of fresh air.
(3) And this is where the discipline part of Results-Based Accountability pays off. If you can show in a business like way, the baseline, the causes, the partners who have a role to play, and what it will take to turn the curve, you are more likely to be given credence than someone who promises that “money for my program will solve the problem.” What has been missing from much of the work on long term progress is this kind of discipline (and this kind of honesty). And lack of discipline leads to lack of credibility. Budget committees are jaded about the false claims of agencies and programs seeking more funding. To be successful you must understand the rules of the game: how budget processes work, how they use information, what passes as evidence (See”The Matter of Evidence: A Short Treatise on the Rules of Evidence in Budget Court”on the FPSI website The Results-Based Accountability framework displayed in the Talk to Action schematicclosely mirrors business planning processes. It will help get business leaders to the table. And the use of business like forms (see Budget formats: Volume I and II) will help present investments in children and families as good fiscal policy, not just good social policy.
(4) The Cost of Bad Results analysis can play a role in bridging from short term to long term perspective. The cost of bad results analysis shows the baseline for the costs of remediating the problems of children and families after they occur. These costs are often treated as entitlement or quaisi entitlement programs in the state or local budget process. Any elected official with an interest in the budget process will be familiar with at least some pieces of this analysis. But the analysis as a whole will most likely show that remediation costs are consuming an increasing portion of discretionary dollars. And the sooner we get serious about slowing growth in these costs the sooner we will see reduced pressure to spend scarce general funds on remediation, the more money there will be for other priorities, and such actions may even lessen pressure on tax policy. Seealso 2.17 How do we create a Cost of Bad Results report and what do we do with it?
(5) Finally, the best way to create room for a long term agenda for children and families is to have short term successes to celebrate. Such successes add credibility and momentum to the overall effort. So make sure that the planning work has a good mix of short term accomplishments to show. Recognize that these short term successes will most likely be traditional accomplishments, like opening a community center or performance measure improvements like increasing child support collection. We have traditionally settled for these kind of accomplishments as the end. Now we can see them as means to the ends of better results for children and families. And they can also be leverage for sustained interest in those long term ends. See also 2.21 How do we report on progress?